Moral corn: should cinemas ban popcorn? | Movies


In the weekly magazine of the Resolute Guide! column, we take a look at a crucial pop culture question you were dying to know the answer to – and let’s fix it, once and for all

The snacks on sale at the cinema today are a sweet and savory smörgÃ¥sbord. There are pick’n’mix walls of sweet treats in small plastic compartments and brightly colored paper bags that moviegoers are urged to fill to the brim. Large sharing bags from beloved chocolate brands. Freezers loaded with ice cream. And behind the counter, platters of sticky nachos and portions of soda the size of a milk churn.

Most important of all, there’s the popcorn, kept warm in plastic-coated tanks. You will be asked if you want sweet or savory. I always ask for sweet, because salty would be risking something that tastes like corn. But for some, the question is whether popcorn should be allowed.

Popcorn became a part of the movies because it was so quick, cheap, and easy to make. Early popcorn vendors could roll their carts to circus tents, fairgrounds, and theater doors. Eventually, they were left inside. The movie theater owners eventually gave up their qualms about lower class popcorn because it was so lucrative, and so they introduced internal concessions. Huge bags of pre-popped corn could be bought cheaply in advance and easily stored, and outrageous mark-ups became the norm.

Popcorn has become a symbol of watching the type of Hollywood movies patronized or affectionately known as “popcorn movies”. But even independent theaters that serve hummus and glitz, new dining theaters have popcorn. It is imperative. (Otherwise, people will sneak in.) Popcorn is part of the grammar of the movie experience. Ben Elton’s 1996 Tarantino novel Popcorn is about some criminals whose behavior turns brutal when they demand that they be sold popcorn after the movie and refused – thus committing a sort of mischief. conceptual outrage to the order and style of popcorn.

But popcorn is a source of division. Some members of the audience bristle at the crackle and rustle, and incitement to bad behavior (it’s cheap enough and dry enough that people throw it away with relative impunity). Since the hosts of BBC Radio 5 Live Film Review, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, opposed the elements contained in their “code of conduct”, resistance has become widespread, with some cinemas even banning it. But here I do not agree with Mark and Simon. They are right to talk, to use the phone, and to kick people’s seats. But the crackling sound is as much a part of the movie experience as the folding chairs and velvet curtains.

Having said that, probably the most horrific experience of my own life in cinema was at the Empire, Leicester Square, in central London (now a Cineworld Imax) where I saw the popcorn delivered in huge light blue plastic bags and discarded in the fireplace. Like making sausage, making popcorn is something we should never see. These blue bags were like the intestines of a giant animal that had been slaughtered and was being prepared for dissection into snack portions. But as theaters reopen after Covid, I’m sentimental about popcorn. Put a bucket of the yellowed finished product in my hand, play the music from the Pearl & Dean commercial, and I’ll eat.


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